Displaying items by tag: immigration

What Happens When You Accept Voluntary Departure

By Reeves Miller Zhang & Diza


Aliens in removal proceedings are faced with the very real possibility of being deported from the United States. While in proceedings, the non-citizen may request various forms of relief that will allow them to remain here. Sometimes, the alien is not eligible for any relief that will let them stay. The alien may be asked, at that point, whether they wish to accept voluntary departure in order to avoid a deportation order. Many issues must be considered in order to make an informed decision in this matter.

The maximum amount of time that an immigration judge can give an alien to voluntarily depart the United States is 120 days. This amount is only available at the beginning of proceedings (with very few exceptions). In addition, the granting of that amount of time requires that the alien waive all rights to appeal. If the alien accepts this form of voluntary departure, s/he should be ready to leave the United States in no more than 119 days from the date of the order.

If the alien chooses to seek other relief in court and that relief is denied, the maximum amount of voluntary departure time the immigration judge can give is 60 days. The alien may pursue an appeal of the denial of the other relief and is entitled to remain in the United States during the pendency of that appeal. While the matter is on appeal before the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the 60 day clock is stopped. However, it begins to run the day the BIA dismisses the appeal. At that point, if the alien elects to file a petition for review with the U.S. Court of Appeals, he must also file a motion to stay removal. However, the act of filing the petition for review vacates the voluntary departure grant and the alien then has a deportation order just as if he had never accepted voluntary departure in the first place.

If the alien fails to depart the United States during the period of voluntary departure, the order automatically becomes an order of removal (deportation). The judge does not need to issue any additional order. This is important for several reasons. An alien with a removal order is ineligible to apply for adjustment of status, change of status, suspension of deportation or cancellation of removal for five years for deportation cases or ten years under removal cases. Additionally, an alien who was granted voluntary departure and failed to leave during the requisite time is barred from relief for a period of ten years. These periods run concurrently (together).

If the alien acquires a new basis for a green card after the judge makes a decision on the case, the alien must file a motion to reopen the removal proceedings in order to apply for that relief. Filing such a motion vacates the voluntary departure grant. Therefore, if the motion is denied, the alien no longer has the ability to leave under voluntary departure.

If the alien leaves on his own after the period of voluntary departure has run, he is considered to have self-deported. He does not escape the negative consequences of failing to leave on time. He still incurs the ten year bar that a removal order carries. He may be able to obtain a waiver of that bar and return to the United States in less than ten years if he can show sufficient hardship. It is a difficult standard to meet.

Whether he leaves on time or after the expiration of the voluntary departure time period, he faces serious problems that will affect his ability to return to the United States. If he has been in unlawful status in the United States for a period of one year or more, once he leaves the United States, he incurs a ten year bar from returning. In order to apply for a waiver of that bar, he must show that his U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident parent or spouse would suffer extreme hardship if he were not permitted to return. Children are not qualifying relatives for purposes of this waiver. (If he has been in unlawful status for more than six months but less than one year and leaves under court-ordered voluntary departure, he does not incur the three year bar.)

The strengths and weaknesses of cases and the effect of pursuing or accepting various forms of relief are matters that should be discussed in depth with a knowledgeable and experienced immigration attorney before making a decision or taking any action. As in most things, knowledge is power.

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Get Ready! Prosecutorial discretions are being revoked.

Question: I was in Immigration Court about 2 years ago and had no relief. However, I did not have any crimes either and my attorney made a motion for prosecutorial discretion. However, last week, I was arrested for DUI. I did not even have to plea as the case was dismissed. There was no evidence and I have no conviction. However, the arrest prompted ICE to revoke my Prosecutorial Discretion. What happens now?

Answer: Under U.S. immigration law, prosecutorial discretion (PD) refers to the power that ICE has to discontinue working on a deportation case. ICE can exercise its PD in many different ways. For example, ICE can join you in asking an immigration judge to close your case. Prosecutorial discretion used to be under Obama one of the most important aspects of Immigration Law. Immigration Prosecutors can choose not to prosecute a crime for which someone is arrested. They can decide to pursue less serious charges. They can basically decide not to issue the Notice to Appear and begin Removal Proceedings.

However, under Trump, this has changed. Prosecutorial Discretion is all but dead. It is very rarely being issued. There are, of course, situations where it is still merited, but nothing like before. Additionally, ICE is revoking grants of PD left and right. Therefore, it becomes necessary for you to know your rights.

1. You do not have to sign a voluntary deportation;
2. You can fight your case in front of the Immigration Judge; and
3. You can still get detained;
4. You can make a motion to get bonded out.

Therefore, you will note that ICE officials in many cases will not tell you the truth and will lie about what you can and cannot do. You MUST know that you can fight your case and the fact that the Prosecutorial Discretion was denied and/or revoked is no reason to give up. It just means you must fight your case now.

Question: But how can I fight? What should I do?

Answer: First, get a qualified Immigration Attorney. Each case is different. This means that depending on your situation, the particular forms of relief will be different. We might be able to apply for Cancellation of Removal or Adjustment of Status, or Waivers of a variety of different kinds, or Asylum, Withholding of Removal, Convention Against Torture or a number of other forms of relief. What is important is that you can fight your case. Simply because Trump has decided to issue orders revoking Prosecutorial Discretion does not mean your path has ended.

Immigration Attorneys across the country are fighting every order that Trump makes. He cannot simply make the Immigration and Nationality Act disappear, or the Code of Federal Regulations, or the Policy Memos or the Foreign Affairs Manual. We are a country of Laws and one man, even if President of the U.S., cannot simply dictate and make all of that disappear.

We are fighting one case at a time and ultimately, we will prevail and the tides will turn. Trump is already seeing through his Muslim Ban, that he cannot simply sign a paper and think it becomes law.

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Help! I Overstayed My Visa!

By Attorney Anda C. Kwong & Nancy E. Miller

When the term “illegal immigrant” is used, some assume that the discussion is about someone who entered the United States without presenting themselves for inspection at the air, sea or land border.  However, “illegal immigrant” can also apply to one who entered legally but whose status has expired. In fact, more people become “illegal immigrants” by overstaying visas than by entering without documentation.  

Overstay means that a noncitizen violated the terms of the visa issued by remaining in the United States beyond the time permitted.  One who overstays her visa is out of status, meaning, she is now here illegally.  While overstaying a single day past the expiration of the visa is unlawful, overstaying becomes even more problematic when the noncitizen stays past 180 days but under one year because she then triggers a bar from returning to the United States for three years when she exits the country. This unlawful presence penalty increases to a ten-year bar when she leaves after overstaying by more than one year. 

Some immigration benefits require the alien to leave the United States to complete processing through the U.S. Consulate in their home country but because they have been here illegally, they invoke the bar as soon as they depart in order to pursue the benefit they seek.   A waiver of the bar is possible if one can prove that their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident parent or spouse - NOT child -  would suffer extreme hardship if they are not able to return.  

With the administration’s expressed intent to step up enforcement to cut down on the violation, there will be a greater focus on those who have overstayed their visas.  While fear of being arrested and deported is a reasonable and understandable response, noncitizens should remember that they do have due process rights. And even once one has been taken into custody, he may apply for immigration benefits if he is eligible for them.  

A noncitizen who is taken into custody by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can expect to be placed in removal proceedings by means of a Notice to Appear (NTA). The notice will set out the reasons why DHS believes the immigrant is ineligible to remain in the United States.  Either it or a second document called a Notice of Hearing will set forth when and where the immigrant’s hearing is to be held.  Failure to appear at a hearing in removal court can result in an in-absentia removal order.  That means that the alien is ordered removed without ever having appeared in court.  Exceptional circumstances beyond the alien’s control are the only acceptable reason for failure to appear.  And, unless the immigration court judge knows of those circumstances in advance, she will issue the in-absentia removal order.  In order to then have her day in court, the immigrant will have to timely file a motion to reopen the proceedings.  There is no guarantee that the motion will be granted.  It is up to the immigrant to prove that her reason for not appearing meets the legal requirements.  

In court, the United States government (DHS) is represented by an attorney from the Office of the Chief Counsel (OCC). The noncitizen has the right to be represented by an attorney at no cost to the government.  If he decides to represent himself, he is expected to comply with the appropriate legal and procedural requirements.  In court, the immigrant will be required to plead to the facts and charges contained in the NTA that assert why the alien should be removed.  Pleading means either admitting that they are true and legally appropriate or denying because they are factually inaccurate or legally wrong.  

If the judge sustains the charges (finds they are factually true and legally accurate), the alien will have the opportunity to apply for any relief for which he may be eligible.  He must file the appropriate applications and supporting evidence and present oral testimony to support the applications.  It is the alien’s burden to prove eligibility.  As is clear, this is a complicated and complex process.  

One should exercise his or her due process rights.  One should also apply for all benefits for which they are eligible.  But in order to do so, one must know what they are.  Therefore, anyone who is not in status should consult with an experienced and knowledgeable immigration lawyer to discuss their options.

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